At the beginning of every school semester, I’d make a memory game out of listening to the teacher call roll for the first time, during which I’d form mental associations to help me remember the names of my fellow classmates. Our full, given first names would often be used that first time around, at which point we’d either be asked or volunteer what we’d like to be called. I’m “Joseph” in the bylines here at CC, but I am, and have always been, “Joe”, for the record.
I find names interesting and very much believe that a given first name will have a significant impact on a person’s trajectory in life, without hyperbole. It’s just my theory, and I’m sure this has been legitimately studied elsewhere, but for just one example, I’d expect a child with a more unusual or odd-sounding name to be on the receiving end of jokes from their peers more often than the “Mikes” and “Jennifers” of the world, which might lead to insecurity, toughening, galvanizing, or some other effect. My observation has been that people’s names and personalities seem to jell by a certain age to where one is an accurate reflection of the other, and the other way around.
1988 Acura Legend print ad, as sourced from the internet.
The great Mad TV sketch comedy show featured a character named Dr. Kylie Johnson (just “Dr. Kylie” in most episodes), played by Stephnie Weir, where the running joke was basically that finding a doctor named “Kylie” would be unusual. (And I’m a casual fan of Kylie Minogue.) Weir’s portrayal, complete with many Valley Girl-isms and pop-culture references, often left me literally laughing out loud on the couch. In one of my recent essays in which I had referenced my multiethnic heritage, one reader had asked in the comments whether many others of Liberian descent like me had English sounding names like “Joe Dennis” (the answer is yes), but that got me thinking about what the alternative might have been if my parents had been more adventurous in choosing my first name. What if they had gone with something from one of my paternal grandparents’ two different tribes?
Without attaching a value judgement to that scenario, my assessment is that my life would have been significantly different if my first name had been, say, Saa or Salia instead of Joe, a first name I share with a gazillion other English-speaking males, regardless of background. Joe is a common name, but given that I’m basically introverted, it fits me absolutely perfectly by not calling too much attention to itself. There are some guys who are named named after their fathers, with a “Jr.” or “II” suffix, where there’s pressure automatically built in to live up to some family legacy. Some have been given names that imply strength, like Alexander or Joan. I’ve honestly don’t think I’ve ever met a Ben or an Emily who wasn’t chill and likeable.
All this is to say that when Honda introduced its new corporate flagship for the 1986 model year, it had demonstrated great gusto to name it the Legend. An excellent and comprehensive essay on the first Legend has already been featured here at CC as written by Brendan Saur, so I recommend that piece as in-depth reading for fans of this car. I’ll join the chorus of those who lament the disappearance of actual names for models versus alphanumeric combinations. Even if a model name was coined, like “Integra”, sharing its basis with another recognizable word, “integrity”, helped give the car a tangible personality right out of the gate.
In the case of our featured car, I would think there was a lot at stake with naming it a “Legend”. There would be no wiggle room for anything called a Legend to be anything but excellent, and fortunately, this car was. The ’86 Legend was Honda’s first production car with a V6 engine, which initially displaced 2.5 liters and was rated at 151-horsepower, which was healthy for the day. The early Legend’s accolades included landing on Car and Driver’s “Ten Best” list for its first three, consecutive model years, and also being named Motor Trend’s “Import Car Of The Year” for ’87.
1989 Acura Legend print ad, as sourced from the internet.
There was a slight exterior refresh for ’89, but I’ve narrowed down the model year of this example to 1990, as this was the first year that all Legends had body-colored side-view mirrors; This one isn’t a top-shelf LS, but rather a mid-range “L” model. As such, it also has the bored-out 2.7L V6 with an additional ten horsepower, which had first been installed in the ’87 coupe and was made standard in the sedan for ’88. Nineteen-ninety was also the third year in a row that the Legend was the best-selling import luxury car in the U.S. It would be redesigned for ’91 into a smoother-looking, larger package that was a full six inches longer.
With the benefit of hindsight, I can’t think of many other makes that might have made as good a use of this model name as Honda did for this upscale model. Can you imagine a Nissan, Buick, or even a Chrysler “Legend”? And what would the actual legacy of that resulting car have been? In a best-case scenario, its substance wouldn’t have made a mockery of its name. Honda was on a hot streak in the ’80s, so perhaps their bravado in essentially calling their flagship “legendary” was justified. I still assert that they’d be wise to dust off that nameplate and attach it to a new car that’s just as memorable as the original Legend. After all, the Integra has already made its return.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Thursday, May 4, 2023.